20. Thundercat: “It Is What It Is”
Certainly one of the most abstract releases in the genre last year, “It Is What It Is” pushed many boundaries and helped to highlight the diversity of sounds across modern R&B. Thundercat glided over various production styles, created almost exclusively by himself and frequent collaborator Flying Lotus. Few artists are able to create quality albums combining such a variety of genres, but Thundercat was able to create a versatile, comedic, heartfelt and interesting listen with elements of jazz, funk, psychedelic soul and contemporary R&B.
Favorite Songs: “Dragonball Durag,” “Black Qualls,” “Fair Chance”
19. Victoria Monét: “Jaguar”
The first part of a series of three projects that will form a trilogy for Victoria Monét, “Jaguar” provides a heavily soulful and sensual project that spotlights Monét’s incredible vocals. With an elaborate music video for the title track as well as a short film to accompany the project’s release, Monét’s artistry and ability to develop thematics are on full display. “Jaguar” displays a confidence and sound that make Victoria Monét undoubtedly one of the most exciting artists to follow over the coming years.
Favorite Songs: “Jaguar,” “Dive,” “Ass Like That,” “Moment”
18. 070 Shake: “Modus Vivendi”
070 Shake came onto the radar for a lot of listeners (myself included) following her great guest appearances on Kanye West’s 2018 album “ye.” After great features on “Ghost Town” and “Violent Crimes,” 070 Shake instantly became a musician who intrigued me. With the backing of Kanye’s GOOD music label, “Modus Vivendi” finally brought 070 Shake’s debut studio album: an electronic and pop-infused album gleaming with talent and potential. A consistent theme across many albums on this list is the way that contemporary R&B is able to combine and blend so many genres effortlessly, and “Modus Vivendi” proves another great example of this. Without a doubt, 070 Shake will be a significant artist and an important innovator across her genres for years to come.
Favorite Songs: “Morrow,” “Guilty Conscience,” “Divorce”
17. Joy Denalane: “Let Yourself Be Loved”
With her fifth studio album and her debut for the Motown Records label, Joy Denalane was able to capture a special blend of traditional soul and R&B sounds with her own style. “Let Yourself Be Loved” consistently holds a very nostalgic and old-soul feel, especially relative to a lot of the modern neo-soul and R&B releases. Even Joy Denalane’s vocals seem to be perfectly fitting, with delivery and sound that could blend with the soul music of decades ago. Originally from Berlin, the German singer’s fifth studio album was the first English release in her discography since 2006’s “Born and Raised.” “Let Yourself Be Loved” is a refreshing throwback to older sounds and a quality addition to the catalog of an established artist.
Favorite Songs: “Love Your Love,” “Be Here In The Morning,” “The Ride”
16. Giveon: “Take Time”
2020 was a huge year for Giveon. Not only did he release his first official project with “Take Time,” but he began to rise to stardom thanks to his incredible feature on Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle.” “Take Time” is an anthem of love and heartbreak, and Giveon expresses emotion through vocal delivery at a level that very few singers are able to. The minimalist production across the project centers the incredible, unique vocals of Giveon as well as his quality songwriting. The atmospheric nature of “Take Time” lays a foundation for Giveon to showcase his talent and potential, which are truly special and will keep him as a relevant voice in R&B for years to come.
Favorite Songs: “HEARTBREAK ANNIVERSARY,” “LIKE I WANT YOU”
Click here for a Spotify Playlist of some of my favorite R&B songs across the year 2020.